A rabbi delivering a Shabbat sermon on the coincidental dates of the 17th of Tammuz and the Fourth of July in 1863 used the phrase “four score and seven years ago” before Abraham Lincoln made it famous, according to an historian.
British Prof. Marc Saperstein, who is a visiting professor of Judaic Studies at Yale, wrote in the Huffington Post Wednesday that Rabbi Sabato Morais delivered his message in Philadelphia after the Battle of Gettysburg was fought but before its outcome was known.
“His sermon contains a phrase that might well have influenced the most celebrated speech in American history,” according to Prof. Saperstein.
The Fourth of July usually falls during the three-week period when Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples. On an average of about once every 10 years or so, Independence Day falls on the first day of the three weeks, the Fast Day of the 17th day of Tammuz and which also was on the Sabbath in 1863.
Without knowing whether the Confederate army had won in Gettysburg , a victory that would have allowed it to threaten Philadelphia, Rabbi Morais said in his sermon that he was asked to refer to Independence Day.
However, since it was the 17th day of Tammuz, even though the fast is postponed because of the Sabbath, Rabbi Morais explained he could not deliver an encouraging address that was recommended by the Union League. It suggested that clergy quote the uplifting verse form Leviticus that is inscribe on the Liberty Bell: “”Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
Instead, the rabbi chose the lament from King Hezekiah in Isaiah, “This is a day of trouble, of rebuke, and derision,” which he also meant as a reference to the Battle of Gettysburg before knowing the Union forces had won.
Rabbi Morais made sure to refer to Independence Day, 87 years after the United States was founded. “’I am not indifferent, my dear friends, to the event, which four score and seven years ago, brought to this new world light and joy,” he said in his sermon.
The King James translation of Psalms 90:10 translates a Hebrew in the psalm as “threescore and ten.”
Prof. Saperstein explained that when Abraham Lincoln spoke to a small group of people three days later, he said that it was “eighty odd years” since the founding of the United States.
The professor wrote, “Needless to say, some three months later, for the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery, Abraham Lincoln elevated the level of his discourse from ‘eighty odd years’ to “four score and seven years, our fathers brought forth to this continent,” possibly borrowing from the published text by the Philadelphia Sephardic preacher who, without knowing it, may have made a lasting contribution to American rhetorical history.”
About the Author: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.
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